Power training: A complementary approach

Another type of training, known as power training, is proving to be just as important as traditional strength training in helping to maintain or rebuild muscles and strength—maybe even more important.

As the name suggests, power training is aimed at increasing power, which is the product of both strength and speed, reflecting how quickly you can exert force to produce the desired movement. Thus, faced with a mountain hike, you may have enough strength to reach the summit. But can you keep up with the younger members of your hiking group? Power, not just strength and cardio fitness, can get you up the steep inclines quickly and safely. By helping you react swiftly if you trip over a root or lose your balance on loose rocks, power can actually prevent falls.

To develop power, you need to add speed as you work against resistance. You can do this by performing traditional strength exercises such as push-ups or biceps curls at a faster pace, while maintaining good form. Plyometrics, such as jumping exercises, also build muscle power. The rapid acceleration as you leap into the air and then the rapid deceleration as you land increase your ability to produce explosive power—for example, darting across the street when a car ignores the crosswalk sign or chasing after a toddler headed for trouble. Exercises such as medicine ball throws increase upper-body power, so you're better able to catch a box of oatmeal if it falls from a shelf.

Power training may be even more important than strength training because muscle power declines at more than twice the rate that strength does as you age—as much as 3.5% a year for power compared with 1.5% for strength. That's why some doctors, physical therapists, and personal trainers are now combining the swift moves of power training with slower, more deliberate strength training exercises, as do the workouts in this report, to reap the benefits of both activities.

To learn more about the benefits of power training, buy Strength and Power Training for All Ages, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.